So you’ve taught your dog to find a specific scent. Job done. Or is it? It can be if you want to stick to the very basics of scentwork. Your dog will enjoy it but at best it is likely to become humdrum and predictable. And at worst it can become frustrating and stressful. Don’t throw away your great start. Keep learning, keep growing.
Starting isn’t finishing
Imagine you are learning to read English for the first time. You might start by learning the alphabet. How wonderful. You are recognising the individual letters. A door is starting to open for you. But without learning how to put those letters together, or understanding what they sound like in combination you’re not learning words never mind being able to read To Kill a Mockingbird. Endlessly repeating the alphabet might start as a great achievement. But without being taught how to use it, that skill very quickly becomes tedious and frustrating.
And that’s why I’ll never leave you hanging. With Talking Dogs Scentwork® the first thing I did was develop a series of interlocking courses that lead you from one skill to the next. Only by building upon the skills you’ve already learned in a logical and manageable way will you and your dog be able to continue to learn. And to learn without sacrificing the pleasure you got from the initial course. If you are taught in a haphazard way, flitting around randomly, your learning will start to slow instead of grow.
I see some students jump from the Teach Your Dog to Sniff course to the specialist courses or even the pro-level courses. Inevitably, those are the students who then struggle. But there was no need. By following the route map (hit the link and scroll down to find it) you can see which courses I recommend to take next.
In essence, I teach scentwork in this order:
- Intro to scent, free search, rudimentary handling
- Higher finds, directed search, pro-active handling
- Search plans, increased duration, deeper finds
- Smaller scent pictures, outdoor searches, advanced handling
Of course this is much simplified. Amongst that is risk assessment, using harnesses, working on as well as off lead, rewards, play, body language, movement, etc.
Without a training plan, a route along which you will learn the required skills you will get stuck. Stuck in a rut. Or perhaps stuck because you don’t know where to go next, what to do. You don’t know what you don’t know. And so you don’t know how best to help your dog.
Unlike most other types of learning, the main difficulty in dog training is that there are two novices – you and the dog. Not only are you learning something new, your dog is learning something new. And then you two newbies have to learn to work together. That’s hard! This is one of the main reasons that I teach the dog to find the scent before teaching you how to be a handler. With active indications, where the dog retrieves the scented article, she has no need to wait for you to deliver the reward. As soon as she finds it, she can access it and play with it or eat it, depending on the article. No need to wait for you to spot indications or move in the right direction.
At this point, all you need do is set up a some starter searches. Then just move ahead of your dog so you don’t get in her way but do encourage her to move through the search area. If you spot her indication, boom! You’re ahead of the game. If you don’t, you’ve not spoiled it for her. She learns independence and grows in confidence. She gets her rewards. And you learn just how clever your dog really is.
Keep the lid off
But to leave it there seems like a waste. Of course you will always be able to set up searches that require minimal skills. But to only have those low level searches is to put a lid on the potential you have just awakened.
Never worry that you don’t know enough. None of us knows enough. We are all always learning. One of the aspects I really miss about in-person training is the opportunity to learn from my students. I come away from every workshop having learned something new. And often it will be something that I’d never encountered or even considered before. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Every expert was a beginner once. And when we are choosing to learn scentwork for pleasure rather than work, the process is the pleasure. There’s no point in skipping ahead. By skipping steps you risk eroding the confidence your dog has built. And you miss out on working hand in paw with your dog.
If you love scentwork, you will always want to do the next search, find the next article. You might not necessarily want to do that in front of strangers at a workshop. But that’s the joy of working online. You can make those necessary mistakes. Those mistakes are what teach you what works and what doesn’t. And being able to do them in the privacy of your own home is a bonus.
Quality time is never a waste
As the days grow longer, now is the time to spend 15 minutes or half an hour of quality time with your dog a few times a week. Instead of mindlessly doom scrolling, you can watch the video lessons in your lunch break. You can read the notes on the bus home. Or over a coffee while your other half makes dinner. It takes so little time but opens up so many opportunities for your dog. And for you. To see your dog go from companion to scentworker and know that you’ve taught and supported her to get there is super rewarding.
Be honest, what’s stopping you?
So what’s stopping you? You know your dog is ready and waiting for more. Personally, even when I’m tired or grumpy, a couple of quick scentwork searches always lifts my spirits. My dogs love getting involved in this quality teamwork activity. And after a long day, a few searches with each dog allows me to have the rest of the evening off while they snooze and dream of mice and cheese. It’s a win-win. Or in my house a win-win-win-win!
I’ll be talking about this in my Instagram Live this Thursday. If you have any questions or want to learn more, do stop by at 6pm GMT. I’d love to see you there.